Center of the Earth
- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
All photos © New Line Cinema
Reviewed by David Medsker
ovies like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” have a clearly visible ceiling on them. The combination of the subject matter, MPAA rating and 3-D goodness tell you that this is going to be a light, brisk, FX-heavy piece of fluff, and that is exactly what it is. Fortunately, it’s clean – not a single bathroom joke in sight, thank goodness – and relatively snappy fluff, which helps forgive a lot of flaws, namely the performance of its lead actor.
Brendan Fraser is Trevor Anderson, a scientist who’s doing research on an as-yet-unproven volcanic theory to honor the work of his brother Max, who went missing ten years ago. When Trevor’s sister-in-law drops off his nephew (and Max’s son) Sean (Josh Hutcherson) to stay with him for a week, Trevor takes Sean to his soon-to-be-closed lab (the director needs it for storage), and discovers that one of the beacons that Max set up is recording data again, so Trevor takes Sean to Iceland to investigate. They enlist the help of a lovely guide named Hannah (Anita Briem) to climb the dormant volcano, and after a lightning storm traps them inside, they hatch an escape plan that accidentally takes them to the center of the earth, and it is exactly how Jules Verne described it in his book of the same name. The three must use the book as a field guide to avoid trouble and get back to the surface.
If you’ve ever seen a 3-D movie before, then you know the drill: open the movie with a few gimmicky shots – spit take, yo-yo, tape measure – and then withhold the goods to ramp up the action sequences. It’s all a big amusement park theme ride, really; you have the mine car roller coaster scene, the angler-fish-from-hell scene, and the rest is fleshed out with birds and dandelions. That may not sound like much, but had they gone further, it would have been too much. Well, that’s my take on it, anyway; I spoke with a 10-year-old afterwards, and he was severely disappointed that the trailer gave away all of the money shots and wanted more 3-D. Huh. And I was thinking that young kids would love this movie. Shows what I know about today’s yutes.
It admittedly takes a certain amount of naiveté to appreciate the movie’s charms. It’s woefully lacking in cynicism, the emotion that seems to drive, well, everything these days. Personally, I consider that a plus, but recognize that I am in the minority on that subject. The movie also lacks in the realism department (i.e. they’d all be dead ten times over, under normal circumstances), but that is where the visible ceiling works in its favor. Can they really outrun a T. Rex? Are you really going to kill the kid in a kid’s movie, even when that is what the real-life equivalent of what that situation would demand? Is Sean’s cell phone really going to work that far underground? Of course not, but that’s not the point, either. Lastly, liking this movie requires forgiving the wooden performance of Brendan Fraser, though first-time director Eric Brevig shares some “credit” for that one. He’s a visual effects supervisor by trade, so an actor’s director he’s not. I did like the Sam Raimi reference at the end of the carnivorous plant scene, though.
As modern-day 3-D outings go, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” isn’t as ambitious as last year’s “Beowulf,” but it isn’t the unholy mess that that movie was, either. It’s a safe, harmless family adventure movie, and there is nothing wrong with that. There isn’t anything great about it, but nothing wrong, either.